Archive for November, 2006
In case you didn’t know, last night’s episode of “Veronica Mars” concluded the first half of the show’s season 3. We’ll have to wait to January to find out the answers to mysteries new and old.
As someone whose cable company didn’t carry UPN and therefore couldn’t watch “Veronica Mars” until the creation of the CW this fall, I understand that I’m missing out on what most loyal Martians seem to think are the best episodes (namely, those in season 1 and season 2). I did recently watch the first two episodes of season 1, and I think I can see why fans like it better (more on that later).
As new viewers at the start of season 3, Porpoise and I had a tough time learning who all the characters were. I don’t know if it’s because we’re getting old and cranky, but all the college kids (the white ones, anyway) kind of look alike. That, and they kind of look like the youngsters from High School Musical. Thanks to reading summaries on Wikipedia and Television without Pity, I think we’ve finally got who’s who sorted out, though we still don’t know all their histories (we’re trying to keep ourselves unspoiled for when we watch the rest of seasons 1 and 2).
The best reason to watch the show is, of course, Veronica. I like small people who can clearly take care of themselves (that she’s not doing as good a job of that this season is one frequent cause of fans’ complaint). But she’s still got her witty voiceovers (“When did the Greek Chorus of Feminist Shame arrive?”) and sarcastic exchanges with both friends and foes. The detective-daughter/detective-dad relationship is appealing.
As far as this season’s story arc, the big mystery involves the string of rapes on the “Hearst College” campus. Rape’s definitely an important subject, but I always get a bit cynical when TV shows make it their subject matter. I read an article once in Entertainment Weekly criticizing the depiction of abuse and rape of women in a lot of popular crime procedural shows. The argument was that, the way these stories were presented, it almost made viewers into sadistic voyeurs by emphasizing the women’s victimization. Veronica Mars certainly doesn’t do that, but, knowing that rape was also an important theme of the first season, I do wonder if rape gets so much emphasis on the show because our heroine is small and vulnerable-looking (thus she gets threatened a lot, we feel more fear for her character, and it’s more dramatic when she escapes or Tazes her attacker or whatever). But, then again, rape is an issue that Veronica cares about from her own experience, so there’s an internal motivation to foreground it. I’d be curious to hear what other people think of how the rape theme has been handled.
Anyway, on to last night’s episode. Skip the next few paragraphs, ye spoiler avoiders!
Okay, first comment: Why on earth didn’t Veronica try to find Piz or Mac or somebody to go with her before leaving the party to single-handedly prevent a girl’s rape? We know she’s independent, and this season seems to want to convince us that she’s too independent, but would she really be that stupid? From what I understand, the usual Veronica is independent and resourceful, not independent and stupid.
Second comment, and this is the one that really bugs me: the scene where we find out that Mercer is the rapist, the one where the writers decide to use monologue exposition to explain his motivations for rape, is really, really silly. It’s so silly that it almost makes you take the situation less seriously, which is not a good thing. We recognize that it’s ironic that he’s delivering his monologue to Veronica (yep, we could pretty much guess it was Veronica under the covers as soon as the scene began) when he thinks it’s to his intended victim. We get irony. We understand irony. We’d just like it mixed with a little subtlety and plausibility, please.
Third comment: there’s perhaps a little too much subtlety to the explanation of why Moe serves as Mercer’s accomplice. If I hadn’t read Television without Pity or talked to Dormouse (who also reads TWOP), I never would have caught on to the continuation of the guard-prisoner relationship from the sociology experiment episode. And I still don’t completely buy it as a motivation. Maybe it would make more sense if I’d seen the episodes closer together, though.
I complain about these writing problems, though, because I care. If the show’s writing weren’t ordinarily so good, it wouldn’t be worth it.
When comparing season 3 to season 1 (the two episodes I’ve seen), I do miss the social-class commentary that’s more possible in a high school setting. Also, the first season has the added strength of showing us a recently transformed Veronica. I do think it’s a brilliant move to have started the series after the events that changed her life: that way the contrast between current-Veronica and flashback-Veronica is all the more dramatic.
So, in conclusion, I’ll be watching the rest of season 3, but I’m actually more excited to catch up on what I’ve missed in seasons 1 and 2.
November 29th, 2006
You may have noticed a new feature on The Ottery. Scroll down (or up!) . . . keep scrolling . . . and look on the right side of the screen, where you should see a box with a thermometer and a jumping cow.
Heifer International has been my favorite charity just about as long as I can remember (I grew up near its headquarters in Arkansas), and I was happy to hear about their new efforts to fundraise through blogs.
In case you’ve never heard of Heifer International, they sponsor livestock-raising programs in impoverished communities, both in the U.S. and abroad. Through donations, Heifer provides animals and agricultural education to people in need, thus providing them with a sustainable source of food and energy.
(We youngsters who visited the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, were taught to chant “Milk, meat, and manure!” to remind ourselves of all the things that an animal could provide. Of course, in addition to manure that enriches the soil, a large animal can also provide the muscle-power needed to pull a plow or other farm equipment. Anyway, the point is that the recipients of Heifer animals don’t just kill and eat them right off–they’re used in the most sustainable way possible. Furthermore, the animal’s offspring are passed on to neighbors in need, so the gift keeps giving.)
I’ve set a fundraising goal of $100 (the money all goes to Heifer International, not to me), but my main hope is to draw awareness to Heifer International’s work.
And, in case you were wondering, Heifer International does not send otters to anyone. We otters really aren’t that useful for much except mischief.
November 28th, 2006
When I read the Entertainment Weekly review of The Queen a couple of months ago, I of course noticed the high grade of A-, but first I had to squeal about the small pile of Pembroke Welsh Corgis visible over Queen Elizabeth II’s (Helen Mirren’s) shoulder. Who wouldn’t love a queen who loves corgis?
Like at least one other great British royalty film (Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown), The Queen focuses on one small slice of Elizabeth’s life. Most of the film, in fact, occurs within one week, the week surrounding the death of Princess Diana in August 1997. The Queen and her family (and the corgis!) are in residence at Balmoral Castle in Scotland when they hear the news, and, like a good, tea-drinking, tweed-wearing Briton of old, Elizabeth assumes the most natural course is to stay in place and allow the family to mourn quietly and privately. Moreover, Diana is of course by this time no longer a member of the royal family, having divorced Prince Charles the previous year.
However, “the people” disagree, having embraced Diana as their own. Tony Blair, who has just been elected Prime Minister a few months before the accident in Paris, and who prides himself on being a “modernizer,” has a better feel for the people’s love of—or at least obsession with—Diana. Though he of course manages to use the situation to his own advantage, solidifying his victory when he dubs Diana “the people’s princess,” he also sympathizes with the Queen and acts as a sort of intermediary to advise her about the people’s wishes.
I have to admit that I’m as puzzled as the Queen about the public outpouring of grief for Diana. Of course, I’m not British, so I couldn’t really understand. But even in the three visits I’ve made to Britain over the past ten years, I’ve seen the two Britains that come into conflict within the movie. To some extent, it’s certainly a generational thing: the older British still behave generally as our stereotypes have led us to believe (tea and tweed and all that—and dogs! As one Welsh woman I met said, “We’re just crackers about our dogs!”). But there’s also the younger Britain of David and Victoria (a.k.a Posh Spice) Beckham, full of tabloids and celebrities in sequined Union Jack T-shirts. Maybe it’s a class thing, too, but I don’t know.
During one particular scene, it actually struck me as kind of ironic that Diana has been hailed as the “people’s princess.” Elizabeth, out driving alone, gets her Land Rover stuck in the middle of a river. She sploshes out of the car in her boots and checks underneath to see what’s broken. Having served as a mechanic during World War II, she immediately knows what the problem is. I can’t imagine Diana doing the same, in her designer shoes and dresses (no offense to Diana, who accomplished good things in spite of having a pretty miserable personal life). In some ways, Elizabeth seems a lot closer to the people. But they want a celebrity who’s far above them, not one who strides around purposefully and fixes cars.
Anyway, as an introvert and a dog fan, I’m pre-programmed to sympathize more with the Queen. The movie leans towards her side, certainly, but it doesn’t present her as perfect, either. Writer Peter Morgan (who also co-wrote this year’s The Last King of Scotland—which is not about Scotland, but rather Idi Amin) is more concerned with portraying her quandary of how best to serve her people while still honoring the values with which she was brought up. Most of the characters in the film are admirably complex (except possibly Cherie Blair, whose anti-monarchist feelings just come off as rude and cranky).
The most affecting scenes in the movie involve Elizabeth and a wild stag in Scotland. I won’t go into details for fear of spoiling the effect, but trust me—it’s powerful. More than openly shed tears, more than speeches about duty, these scenes reveal the heart of the internal conflict Elizabeth faces.
But my favorite, though less important, moment in The Queen is when Elizabeth looks back at the dogs in the back seat of the car (black labs this time, not the corgis), and invites them enthusiastically, “Walkies?” Oh, and also the bit at the end where one of the corgis jumps up on Tony Blair’s leg and seems to be searching in his pocket for a treat.
Even without the corgis, though, I think The Queen is the best movie I’ve seen this year. May it win lots of Oscars! (Corgis on the red carpet . . . ?)
Oh, and by the way, the Christianity Today review of The Queen is insightful and well-written–I recommend it.
November 26th, 2006
When animators are so intent on projecting human stereotypes onto animals that they put cleavage on female penguins, you know something’s off base from the very start. I mean, Disney has always put fluttery eyelashes on its female animals, which is bad enough, but cleavage? On penguins?
The entire narrative drive of the movie (well, one of the narrative drives—there are many, way too many, and they’re barely connected to each other) really focuses on penguin mating. The reason the young Emperor penguin Mumble (who dances rather than sings, and therefore can’t join in all the penguin games) is so concerned about learning to sing is that, if he doesn’t, he won’t be able to attract a mate and make baby penguins. Of course, reproductive potential is a big concern out there in nature, but when over-sexualized penguins attract their mates by singing risqué songs (“Let’s talk about eggs, baby”), kids are either going to be bored by it—or way too interested.
The biggest problem with Happy Feet (other than having a plot that makes no sense whatsoever) is that the filmmakers seem to have no concept of what’s appropriate or interesting for children. On the one hand, they club kids over the head with the currently ubiquitous “be yourself” message (and, as usual, “yourself” has nothing to do with the family or community influences who might have shaped you—nope, you’re just born being yourself, and forget the rest of the world)—but then they reinforce both gender and ethnic stereotypes. Mumble’s be-cleavaged mother penguin Norma Jean talks in a soft, Marilyn Monroe-esque voice and is overprotective of her baby, defending him against the gruff daddy penguin Memphis. (Hey—it’s a cliché director George Miller recycled from his other animal movie, Babe, where he altered the fine source book by giving these same personalities to the mommy and daddy border collies!)
Oddly, both Norma Jean and Memphis are given their faux American celebrity accents by Australians (Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, actors who shouldn’t have stooped to such things). In fact, most of the penguins (except our stars Mumble and Gloria) have some sort of ethnic accent, most of them voiced by someone not actually of that ethnicity, and many of them (well, actually just two, but it seems like more) voiced by Robin Williams. Hmmm . . . what do you know? The short penguins who love to goof off have Hispanic accents! The strict, stingy elder penguins have Scottish Scrooge McDuck accents! Basically, the only characters who have the courage to “be themselves” are the characters with “normal” white American accents. Anyone see a problem here?
(SPOILERS: If you’re concerned about them, skip the next paragraph, though it probably doesn’t matter, because even if you know what happens, you’ll still be puzzled about it.)
And don’t even get me started on the “environmental” message of the film, which gets tacked on and whammed into viewers’ heads. I prefer my environmentalism Al Gore-style, thank you. (I think a kids’ movie could actually explore environmental themes well and subtly, but I’ve never yet seen it done.) We learn that humans are the cause of the penguins’ fish shortage, but it’s all downhill from there, as Mumble journeys to a human settlement (A settlement with a church? In Antarctica?), chases a fishing ship, lands on a beach somewhere warm, gets put in a zoo, begins tap dancing in said zoo, launches a worldwide campaign to stop big corporate fishing, gets sent back home with a GPS tracker, and teaches all the other penguins to tap dance for the audience of humans who have followed him. That’s the plot. I am not kidding.
Hey, as an Irish dancer who does lots of clippety-clop things with my feet, I’m predisposed to favor any suggestion that dancing will save the planet. But it’s hard to tell whether the message is that being yourself will save the day or that being cute and fluffy will save the day—I mean, what if “yourself” isn’t cute and fluffy and nobody’s interested in saving you from species extinction?
One thing’s for sure: if I were a kid who saw Happy Feet, I certainly wouldn’t want to save leopard seals from extinction. The scene in which Mumble is chased by “Jaws the Seal” (my name for him) is genuinely terrifying. It’s actually one of the more interesting bits of the movie, since seals usually get the cute-and-fluffy role in films and books, while killer whales are the villains. It’s kind of a nice reminder (for adults) that one person’s cute-and-fluffy is usually another animal’s predator. But it’s way too scary for small children.
I had such high hopes for Happy Feet. Sigh. It would have been much better if it hadn’t bothered with the illusion of a plot and had just focused on the dancing penguins.
Oh, and one final thing: Mumble looks frighteningly like Elijah Wood (who voices him), buggy blue eyes and all. What on earth is a penguin doing with blue eyes? And why, for goodness’ sakes, doesn’t he ever molt?
November 25th, 2006
In spite of the fact that The Otter thinks beer tastes yucky, she for some reason finds pictures of animals holding beer containers rather amusing. Here’s one from Cute Overload, my new addiction:
Really, I’m not surprised that armadillos would go for a Budweiser, but you’d think otters would have more taste!
November 24th, 2006
Last Wednesday night, as Porpoise and I were reading the bit from the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus really lets the Pharisees have it for their hypocrisy (Matthew 23), I suddenly burst into, “You snakes, you viper’s brood!”, et cetera, from Godspell’s “Alas for You.” Thus was launched a whole evening of playing 30-second clips from various Godspell recordings as I tried to decide which to purchase to replace my old, long-gone tape (which, incidentally, was pilfered by a church choir director several years back). Poor Porpoise.
The end result was that I ordered the 1993 British version. It didn’t sound quite as dated as the original cast album (which I’m still quite fond of), but the vocalists could actually sing, unlike the ones in the more recent American revival album.
It arrived today, in record fast time for Amazon free shipping. So, as I’m looking at the liner notes, I see the name John Barrowman, and I think “Now why does that sound familiar?” Once again, IMDB comes to the rescue, and I see that John Barrowman is none other than Captain Jack Harkness from “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood.” On the CD, he does the lead part for “We Beseech Thee” (you can hear him in the 30-second snippet for this song!). Wonders never cease.
In the past few days, as I’ve been introducing Porpoise to Godspell, I’ve been trying to explain why I love it so much. In some ways, it really is a product of the seventies (the original featured the disciples as flower-children), and, as such, you would think its appeal would be limited. But I also remember seeing a community production in Little Rock when I was 12 years old that probably forever changed how I view theater and how I view Christian art.
The Little Rock production didn’t really have a 70’s feel—it was very well adapted to the then-current era and place. That’s one of the things that can be great about Godspell: if done well, if becomes incarnate in the culture where it’s performed, as Jesus became incarnate in 1st-century Galilee. But what I remember most about the performance is the effectiveness and simplicity of the way that Jesus called the disciples. As each one came to him, he greeted them with a simple hand gesture—a different one for each person—which they then repeated back to him. He Named them. Without words.
In church, on the stage, and on the page, I’m a sucker for the symbolic. Literal sorts of representations of the crucifixion of Christ (i.e., The Passion of the Christ) really don’t affect me much, in spite of the fact that I think that it’s important that the crucifixion and resurrection literally happened. But, tonight, as I listened to “By My Side” from Godspell, a song that doesn’t explicitly refer to the events leading up to the crucifixion but nevertheless is all about them (“Where are you going? Can you take me with you?”), I started crying. Maybe it’s because this recording includes the spoken words in the middle of the song, which the original cast recording doesn’t: Matthew 26:14-16, the description of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. Because they weren’t in the other recording, I wasn’t expecting them here—they caught me off guard. (Also, “By My Side” has extra resonance for me because I always think of it in connection to Lucy and Susan walking with Aslan on his way to the Stone Table in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.)
Anyway, Incarnation and symbolism—hurrah. Of course, Godspell isn’t always done well. If the director and the performers don’t get the basic concept of “fools for Christ,” they shoot for “cutesy” instead. Blech. I saw one of those performances once. From what I’ve heard about the 1973 movie, it sounds like it kind of misses the boat as well. I watched the old movie trailer on Netflix.com, and the disciples look high as kites. But I can’t imagine that the symbolic elements of Godspell would transfer well to film, anyway. I love movies, but there are some things that live theater just does much better.
During my recent Godspell fixation, I learned some fascinating trivia from Wikipedia: the show began as a Master’s thesis for a Carnegie Mellon grad student. Who would’ve thunk? The story about his inspiration for Godspell is definitely worth checking out:
“Tebelak originally produced Godspell at age 22 as his masters thesis project, under the tutelage of Lawrence Carra, at Carnegie Mellon University in December 1970. He had been studying Greek and Roman mythology, with the deadline for his thesis two weeks away, but became fascinated by the joy he found in the Gospels. He attended an Easter Vigil service in 1970 at Pittsburgh’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, wearing his usual overalls and T-shirt. A policeman frisked him for drugs after the service. He wrote of this experience, ‘I left with the feeling that, rather than rolling the rock away from the Tomb, they were piling more on. I went home, took out my manuscript, and worked it to completion in a non-stop frenzy.’ Though he never completed his coursework at the university, Carnegie Mellon nevertheless awarded him a degree.”
Wow. Pretty impressive.
November 20th, 2006
I certainly haven’t been following news about the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes nuptials closely, since he’s insane and she must also be if she’s marrying him. But it’s hard to miss some of the headlines if you read Google News. This morning one in particular jumped out at me, and it was intriguing enough that I even clicked through to the article: “With this cat, I pledge my love.”
The article includes portions of the wedding vows from TomKat’s Scientologist ceremony. Now, I usually don’t like to make fun of other religious beliefs, but I consider Scientology fair game, especially when they come up with vows as silly as these. I mean, they sound like Star Wars dialogue.
For example: “And do you ken that by the customs of our race you pledge to him, and only him, your kiss and your caress?”
And, for the kicker: “Now, Tom, girls need clothes, and food and tender happiness and frills. A pan, a comb, perhaps a cat. All caprice, if you will. But still they need them. Do you then provide? Do you?”
What on earth? Well, I guess that’s what you get when you let little green men come up with your vows.
November 18th, 2006
Because I was out of town for a few days, I had TWO episodes of monkery to catch up on this week!
Recently, when I was describing “The Monastery” to someone, I was asked the question, “So, does anybody get voted off, like on ‘Survivor’?” An amusing concept, but no. However, the young ex-Marine Alex does quit the experiment, of his own volition, at the end of the third episode. I guess you could say he votes himself off. His stated reason for leaving is that he took things too far: he and Jon, the other, older ex-Marine, celebrated Mardi Gras the previous night by stealing the monastery’s van and going off to a local bar.
Does that mean that guilt is his motivation for leaving the monastery? It’s a bit ambiguous. He could have stayed. The monks would have forgiven him. But, whatever his reasons, once he’s decided that he’s going, there’s no swaying him.
I have to admit that I’m a bit relieved that Alex is gone from the show, because now I feel we have a chance to hear some of the other seekers’ subtler, but no less important, struggles. Because they don’t exhibit the same theatrical “breaking out” that Alex did, they can get passed over easily for the sake of attention-grabbing TV. In the wake of Alex’s departure, several of the seekers have been more open about their emotional responses.
Tom, the recovering alcoholic, gets some of the best moments in these two episodes. He feels that his faith in God is growing during his stay at the monastery, and he chooses to show his renewed commitment by participating more fully in the monastic liturgy, singing aloud for the first time. Alas for him, he can’t sing. Alas for him and alas for the monks, Prior Christian decides to “confront” him about his atonal singing. Sheesh. He’s trying. Let the fellow make a joyful noise, even if it happens to be an octave below everyone else! At least Prior Christian then tries to help Tom follow the notes, but I would have preferred if he had left the matter completely alone. Surely it’s more important that a newcomer not have his faith squashed than that everybody sings on the same pitch. Of course, churchy people are notoriously insensitive about any guests who don’t follow the unspoken rules of proper behavior. I just thought the monks, with their centuries-old tradition of hospitality, might have been a little more compassionate.
In any case, like I’ve said before, the fact that the monks don’t always do things the way I would is actually comforting, because I can see how God is still working through humans who don’t always do things perfectly.
Warren, the young man who wants to become an Episcopal priest, doesn’t seem to share my view. When the monks do something he disagrees with, he simply writes them off as “wrong.” In the fourth episode, Tom asked him if he had considered joining an Episcopal monastic order. Warren replies that he had looked into it, but he didn’t like the way any of the orders did things. I can understand that. Really, I can. But that’s sort of the whole point of monastic life—that you obey and respect your abbot/abbess and your brothers and sisters, even if you don’t agree with or like them. It’s not the life for everybody. It’s not the life for me—I’m an independent, argumentative American. But I blame that on me and not on monastic tradition. My problem with Warren is that he doesn’t seem to get that, with monasticism, you can’t pick and choose. You either commit wholeheartedly, or you don’t. If you can’t commit, that’s fine—but know that that’s a choice made because of who you are, not because the monks are doing things “the wrong way.” They’re always going to do some things the wrong way. They’re human!
Father Joseph Gabriel (the zealotor!) continued to show more facets during these episodes. On the one hand, he pressed baby-Christian Tom to get his marriage sanctified by the Catholic church, which seemed a little insensitive to Tom’s needs at that point. However, he also tells Tom later that the seekers’ presence in the monastery has been a blessing to the monks. He says it quietly, but without a doubt. Tom is floored by that thought. And probably all the more floored because it came from Father Joseph Gabriel. God speaks words of grace, even through zealotors.
Also, any moment when the monk called Brother Luis speaks makes me wish I had him around as a sort of household monk. He just seems to constantly spew forth wisdom and parables. He actually speaks like one of the ancient Desert Fathers, whose sayings were recorded and passed down through the centuries. Porpoise doesn’t think we really need a pet monk, though . . . which is probably for the best.
November 17th, 2006
So, People has just released its annual Sexiest Man Alive issue, and once again George Clooney tops the list. Oh well. I skimmed through the 15 top names listed on the People web site (you have to actually buy the magazine to read the rest of the list, and I won’t be doing that), muttering, “Bleh, bleh, yuck, who? . . . bleh . . . squeeee!!!” Yes, that’s right, at spot #9, there was John Krasinski! Our beloved Jim from “The Office”!
I’m surprised that, given People’s abysmal taste in most of its other nominations, that they recognized Krasinski’s charm. Maybe I will have to look at the rest of the list . . . while in line at the grocery store . . . just to see if David Tennant makes it.
Okay, I will now resume my dignified religion-and-culture commentator persona. Sometimes the squealy fangirl just breaks out.
November 15th, 2006
The title of Julia Scheeres’s memoir comes from a series of signs that she and her adopted brother David encounter soon after moving to rural Indiana: “Sinners go to: HELL. Rightchuss go to: HEAVEN. The end is neer: REPENT. This here is: JESUS LAND.”
I’m sure that religious signs with such egregious misspellings do exist—and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some of them. I just wish that Scheeres hadn’t chosen to represent the sign-maker this way, as it reinforces our assumptions that Christian fundamentalists are ignorant. And, in Scheeres’s book as a whole, the Christians who commit the most horrific acts of prejudice and abuse are not those who would misspell words. They’re educated—they just read the Bible in the most selectively literal way, a way that justifies their twisted actions.
Jesus Land is a heart-wrenching book. It’s also a moving tale of love, particularly the bond between the young Julia and her adopted African American brother David. Where these two learned how to love is difficult to figure out, since their mother is extremely cold and distant, and their father is abusive. The family attends a Christian Reformed (Calvinist) church, and the congregation sees them as ideal Christians, unaware of the seamy underside of their home life. (Scheeres also tells us that her parents’ behavior worsened after her eldest siblings left home, but it’s not really clear what triggered this change—I wish we had a fuller portrait here, but the book does have to limit its focus.)
After the family moves to the country from slightly-less-rural Lafayette, Indiana, the prejudice directed against David at the local high school becomes almost unbearable. After he attempts to slit his wrists, the Scheeres parents send him to a “Christian” reform school in the Dominican Republic. After it is discovered that Julia has been experimenting with sex and alcohol, she is given the option of going to join him. Feeling that he is her only true family, she does.
(And I should mention here that one of the most intriguing things about the book is its portrayal of Midwestern “family values” people—the Scheeres parents—who really don’t care about family. After David leaves, Julia watches her mother clean his basement room with Lysol, erasing every trace of his existence from their home. Uf. It’s an incredibly painful scene. See what I mean about Julia’s and David’s strong love for each other emerging ex nihilo? Out of nothing, the two children create their own little family, and Scheeres implies that, in the end, family is all that matters.)
David’s letters home have given no indication of the horrible conditions, including psychological and physical abuse, at the school. Escuela Caribe’s staff tries to instill “godly respect for elders” into the teens by humiliating and otherwise maltreating them. David and Julia survive only by holding on to each other and to the dream of an independent life in Florida after they turn 18.
Jesus Land is at its best when depicting the deep bond between the siblings. Perhaps because Scheeres envisioned this book as telling David’s story (necessarily through her perspective), she never seems to whine when describing her own abuse at home or school. Her own treatment is almost unimaginably evil, but the book describes her growing realization that David receives even worse, simply because he is black.
The book in itself is strong, well contained within the perspective of a sixteen- and seventeen-year-old girl, but reading statements from the adult Scheeres makes her seem more simplistic. For example, in the book’s epilogue, she claims that her time at Escuela Caribe taught her “to believe in people over dogmas.” But she was abused by people—dogmatic people, sure, but people nonetheless. I would suggest that there was something hurting or broken in those people that led them to embrace dogma. It was something about who they were that caused their dogmatism—it’s just not that easy to separate people and dogma. And there are all sorts of dogmas other than religious ones, too.
I say this not to detract from the true pain of Scheeres’s experience or to deny that the fundamentalists’ behavior had roots in (a misinterpretation of) religious faith. Christians need to read stories like these, so that we can understand the lives of those who have been abused by those who also claim to follow Christ and to have deep compassion for them. It also keeps us humble, knowing the many ways in which Christians have perverted the gospel. More than anything, Jesus Land stirs me to pray for the many Christian hypocrites and Christian hypocrites’ victims out there—and to pray that my own hypocritical ways (less extreme, definitely, but still there, since I do happen to be human) will be transformed.
November 13th, 2006